Federal authorities say they are cracking down on the surge in meth trafficked along highways in the Midwest, including Kansas, by redirecting resources and changing strategies.

As part of those efforts, the Drug Enforcement Agency has re-established a presence in Garden City and Dodge City, increased staff in Topeka and Wichita, and strengthened its partnership with the Kansas Highway Patrol.

The DEA on Thursday announced Operation Crystal Shield, an effort to block the distribution of drugs that enter the United States from Mexican drug cartels.

“The superhighways of methamphetamine distribution cross Kansas,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister. “No drug has proven to be a greater threat to the peace, safety and health of our communities. Operation Crystal Shield is a much-needed initiative to make Kansans safer.”

William Callahan, special agent in charge for the Midwest region of the DEA, said most of the meth passing through the area originates from labs in Mexico.

Meth used to be created in clandestine home labs, Callahan said. Laws that require ID tracking and restrict the bulk purchase of cold and pain medicines make it more difficult to produce meth.

“Mexican traffickers saw that as an opportunity,” Callahan said.

Drug cartels now produce meth that is more potent and cheaper, he said. The cartels smuggle the drug across the border, where it can be distributed through a variety of ways. Callahan said Mexican drug cartels have established connections in Kansas.

DEA Lab-Pure Meth from Drug Enforcement Administration on Vimeo.

Nationwide, DEA seizures of meth increased from 49,507 pounds in 2017 to 112,146 in 2019. Callahan said meth seizures in Kansas increased by 65% just from 2018 to 2019.

He said pricing is an indicator of how much drugs are in the area, following the laws of supply and demand. The price of meth in Kansas has dropped.

To fight back, Callahan said, the DEA re-established positioned staff and added agents in key Kansas communities.

The shift in meth production also forced the agency to alter its strategy. DEA agents now work alongside KHP officers when they uncover drugs during a traffic stop. The goal is to exploit the situation for intelligence on drug operations.

“At times, people realize their best interest is to cooperate with law enforcement, and they provide information,” Callahan said. “What the DEA does best is connect the dots.”